Oh, Canada : in Stereo

Aw, look, I don’t really do gig reviews, but I can’t let last night’s Dan Mangan/Zeus show at Stereo pass without comment and, in the process,  go on to admit that I may becoming obsessed about the music coming out of Canada at the moment. But first, some back story…

A little under a year ago, 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, I was in the Captain’s Rest for the opening few acts of the Stag & Dagger festival. As always, I’d done my research and one of the acts I’d marked as being potentially up my street were a Canadian band called Zeus. I think it’s fair to say that circumstances conspired against them that day, however. They’d driven up over night from Europe, and arrived knackered in Glasgow to discover they were the first full band on, early in the afternoon and in a tiny venue.  They put on a decent show for all that, but I knew we were seeing them at maybe 50-60% at best. I really hoped they’d come back soon.

And come back, they did. As soon as I heard they were touring with Arts & Crafts label-mate, Dan Mangan I bought my tickets, and it’s without doubt the best £7 I’ve spent in the name of music this year. Up first was an unbilled local support act in the form of The Streetlight Conspiracy, who were decent enough without reaching the levels of musical maturity or polish of the two acts who followed them. Zeus pretty much roared onto the stage and set up an instant rapport with the crowd who warmed to their quirky mix of melody and rockstaticity.  Zeus are a character band, and their habit for taking turn about with the lead vocal locks you in to the members’ individual personalities faster than most bands. It also accounts for the sheer variety of style in their songwriting demonstrated by a hefty selection of tunes from new album, Bustin’ Visions, backed up by a handful of older numbers. Stand-outs for me were “Strong Mind”, “Love/Pain” and the wonderful “River By The Garden”. Overjoyed to see them on top form this time round, and equally happy that they got a decent audience reaction to keep their peckers up all the way to the end of their set on their fourteenth consecutive gig.

I really didn’t know much about Dan Mangan before last night, but his style is much less exuberant than Zeus and it took a few songs for me to really connect with his performance. When I did, though, I found an engaging personality, with thoughtful, introspective and occasionally wild songs played by an excellent band. The crowd was up for a bit of audience participation and gave great choir on “Robots” and evening-closer “So Much For Everyone”, the latter becoming a most definite gig “moment”.

So, yay for Canada! Brilliant show. Two great bands on top form. But they’re far from being alone. Arts & Crafts have a whole roster of talented, musically innovative acts, from Feist to The Hidden Cameras.  But they don’t have a monopoly on the good stuff. I’ve just discovered Patrick Watson, who has a really interesting sound going on with his new album.

It’s all good. And it’s very likely that Canada’s current musical excellence is not news to many of you (it speaks more of my ignorance than anything else), but if these acts *are* new to you, I urge you to check them out. Especially Zeus.

Zeus absolutely fucking rock me right now.

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